Once you have decided on your general destination you need to begin planning your bicycle tour. While you do not want to plan every moment and leave some flexibility in your itinerary an efficient plan can ensure you pick the best route to fit your needs.
Step 1 Do some basic research – check the internet, get in touch with the local tourist offices, see what itineraries the tour companies use. If you wish to visit a particular castle or museum what days of the week is it open and the hours of operation. Make sure your route planning includes sufficient time for the visit. Learn a few phrases of the local language.
Step 2 Flight – does the airline carry bicycles on board at what charge and under what conditions, i.e. turn handbards, need bike box, etc. If taking your bicycle the airline with the least number of connections should be considered. If you book early you may qualify for a higher discount. Charter airlines should also be considered, a good travel agent can help you with this.
Step 3 Taking your Bike – If you are taking your own bicycle packed in a bike box you can either store the box at the airport or railway station. However what I recommend is staying at a hotel near the airport and leaving the bike box while making arrangements to return to the same hotel on your last night, I have never found this to be a problem. This means you must either plan a cycle route or take the train in one direction.
If renting a bicycle be sure it comes with racks for your panniers and a lock. Check the number of gears. I have found bike rentals to be very inconsistent. In some countries such as Switzerland you can rent from one location and leave your rental bike at any of 200 bike depots scattered around the country.
Step 4 Order route maps – it is best to have them prior to leaving, however some European maps are only available upon arrival. Amazon and some local book stores carry the maps. The Omni Resources web site is another great source of cycling maps.
Step 5 Work out your itinerary – decide how far you wish to cycle each day and what you want to see along the way. Then pick out the nearest towns for your stopover. I have found it is best to plan some days with a 2 or 3 night stop to do some local cycling and sightseeing, and do the laundry.
Step 6 Book your Accommodation – it is really only neccessary to book your first nights accommodation and perhaps Friday and Saturday nights if bicycle touring in Europe. If camping you do not need to book in advance. If staying in local hotels I have only found a problem on weekends in Germany and Austria so I do book those nights. If booking in advance ask about bicycle storage and advice what time you are expected to arrive.
Step 6 Train tickets and Passes – If using a train if may be cheaper to buy the pass prior to leaving your home country. I used a Swiss rail pass which gave me a discount train ticket, discounts on train tickets I purchased locally, a reduced price on my rental bicycle and free admission to museums, castles and and wide range of attractions. The amount of money I saved on the admissions more and covered what I paid for the train pass. Check the internet or with your travel agent as passes vary a lot. Trains in Europe generally have a bicycle storage area but some require a additional fee.
Tip – print off your expected train times in advance as connections can only be a few minutes in Europe and it is best to know in advance.
Step 7 Airport transfers – figure out how you are getting from the airport to your first hotel or destination. In Europe many airports have train stations. In other destinations you may need to use the local bus service but check to see if they can carry your bikes. Some cyclists prefer to leave right from the airport but if doing that check on expected traffic conditions
When planning your bicycle tour take these steps can help ensure you have a great trip.